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Where are the GOP’s women? Congress’s next generation fared poorly in 2018 primaries

Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee talk before Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018.
Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee talk before Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. AP

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WASHINGTON — The GOP’s rightward march is boxing out its next generation of female leaders, many of whom are now too moderate to survive today’s Republican primary system, according to a strategist working to increase the party’s female representation in Congress.

This year Republican women ran for federal office in bigger numbers than ever before, Meghan Milloy, co-founder of the grassroots group Republican Women for Progress, told Beyond the Bubble Tuesday.

Yet GOP women make up just 18 percent of the party’s general election candidates headed into this November’s election in races where there party does not have an incumbent seeking re-election, compared to 50 percent of Democrats’ nominees, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

“I think the nature of closed primaries that we’re seeing right now is that they’re going to the extremes on both sides,” said Milloy. “That especially has hurt a lot of female candidates because they do tend to be more moderate.” In closed primaries, only registered party members can vote.

“We’ve seen a lot of women…[who] came out and said, ‘yes I’m a lifelong Republican… but I don’t think that Trump is the direction the party should be going,” added Milloy, who pointed to Jennifer Sarver, a congressional hopeful who did not advance from the primary in Texas’s 21st district., as an example.

Sarver finished fifth in race that featured millions of dollars of ads attacking candidates as not close enough to Trump, who has wielded unparalleled influence in this year’s GOP primary contests. The GOP nominee, Chip Roy, also has the backing of staunch conservative groups.

Women hold 23 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate. Six are Republicans.

There are no GOP women on the Senate’s judiciary panel, which this week plans to hear from a woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanuagh of sexually assaulting her when he was in high school.

“There are so many visuals that are turning women off from being a part of the Republican Party,” said Milloy. “You look at the health care conversation picture that took place at the White House…this is a conversation about huge national health care issues… several of which only effect women, and the only people at the table are old white men.”

Milloy is a GOP operative who worked on three Republican presidential campaigns, helping George W. Bush, Mitt Romney and John McCain. After Donald Trump became her party’s nominee in 2016, she recruited Republican women to cast their votes for Democrat Hillary Clinton instead.

I think that once we get past this era of Republicanism... the women that are in the party that are energized and that are running for office right now… they’re the future of the party,” said Milloy, who two years ago helped start a group that trains and helps Republican women who are running office at every level of government.

“We don’t have the institutions in place to recruit women, to train women, to fund women… compared to the institutions that the [Democrats] have and that have been in place for so many years,” said Milloy, who pointed to EMILY’s List, which supports Democratic women who back abortion rights. “Until we fix some of these problems, were just not going to see the same numbers of women.”

Also in this episode, Politifact executive editor Aaron Sharockman breaks down some of the most misleading campaign ads heading into the 2018 midterms.

McClatchy’s Beyond the Bubble show is produced by Jordan-Marie Smith and Davin Coburn. Alex Roarty, a national political correspondent for McClatchy, and Andrea Drusch, Washington correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, recorded this episode at McClatchy’s Washington Bureau, September 25, 2018.